Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Personal Aside: McCarron’s `60s Style Op Ed Brimming with Ignorance.

Barack Obama is only the latest example of on-one-hand-then-the-other intellectual duplicity which oozes relativism. Another is John McCarron. The “Tribune’s” onetime editorialist McCarron appeared yesterday in the paper with an Op Ed. As a “Trib” editorial writer he specialized in the style during the era when the paper’s editorials ended up with nihilism—“who knows?” “stay tuned” “time will tell.” McCarron’s habit is to cast doubt on all sides and then gravitate gently to the left. He spent eight years on the paper’s editorial board when its most meaningful rhetorical device was the shrug. Rather than getting rid of him completely, the paper keeps him on tab as a once-a-month columnist. Good thing he runs only once a month for normally it would take a month of research to confront this jocular know-all with the truth.

McCarron can be funny but that’s a dodge; he wastes no time establishing the validity of doubt which one can assume is the basis of his lecturing at the Medill school of journalism at Northwestern. Marshaling an array of facts and drawing a conclusion is much too hard for him: he’d rather purvey doubt and after the fog lifts settle down on the side of the Left. We wonder how young journalists get screwed up: McCarron’s flip doubt of certainty—a doubt of which he is sure (note the contradiction)—is one good reason.

Yesterday, McCarron wrote about Milton Friedman, taking the typical relativist evasion, just like the “Tribune’s” editorials of yore. Friedman “was a great economist.” But wait, “let’s not celebrate him as a cure-all.” But before he gets to Friedman, he has something to say about “powerful theories of human behavior.” Even-handedly, he casts doubt on both Augustine of Hippo and Sigmund Freud. Their theories of life are flawed, you see? “The trouble with powerful theories about human behavior,” he writes, “…is that true believers come to believe their master’s theory explains all human behavior.” Just like an old-fashioned “Trib” editorial. No absolutes, no certainty—just, a shrug laced with a primitive dose of liberalism. It’s that kind of editorial jerkiness that got the paper where it is today.

So let us start with Freud.

Freud’s philosophy is encased in his “the Future of an Illusion” which is an attack on religion as a fiction, fantasy spun by infantile minds and thus takes atheism for granted. His theory of the origin of religion, in his “Totem and Taboo,” (1913) maintained that it all started in pre-historic days with the cannibalism of a father by his sons. This ritualistic meal was the beginning of religion and when he examine our evil past, he insisted, we discern in all families incest, patricide and cannibalism. Utterly no grounds for that supposition existed or does exist now—but that was Freud’s doctrine.

So the prime assumption by Freud was that God doesn’t exist. One “powerful” theory of human behavior? Not really. Maybe some weirdos still adhere to it but not many. Yet in his insouciant way which accepts no absolutes, McCarron equates Freud with…with WHOM?

Saint Augustine of Hippo. Now let us turn to him.

A lion of western philosophy equated with Freud? Augustine proved that certainty is possible of attainment. What is there about that proposition that McCarron doubts as a pretext for study of all human behavior? In his “City of God” Augustine characterizes a struggle between those who believe in the city of man…characterized by lust for domination…and those who subscribe to the city of God which purveys goodness.

Augustine was the West’s first great philosopher of history, affirming a distinction between two kinds of love—lust and charity…a distinction that has under-girded thought for a thousand years and without which you cannot understand Chaucer or Dante or Shakespeare. Com’on, McCarron isn’t this a fast and easy, cowardly, really, way of rejecting all certainty which is the essence of the nihilism you subliminally espouse?

Now to Milton Friedman.

Get this guy McCarron: “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing personal against the Nobel Prize-winning economist…He literally turned the world on to the enormous power of free markets, the power to deliver what government-controlled economies rarely have—widespread improvement in a peoples’ standard of living.” Nice of you to concede that, McCarron! . But…BUT.

Now a careless journalist’s purveying of truth. “His many disciples credit Friedman and Friedmanism with everything from the fall of Communism in eastern Europe to the entrepreneurial spirit behind the digital/cyber revolution that took off during the 1990s. There is some truth to these claims.” SOME TRUTH. Nice of you to concede, McCarron.

But “the nuclear arms race was a standoff…” WAS IT?

“The nuclear arms race was a standoff” when Reagan and Gorbachev met but the tipping point went to us over the SDI which the USSR couldn’t match, McCarron, remember? Gorbachev knew the USSR could not afford to continue on its bluffing past. At Geneva, in 1985 he restated the bluff: Reagan was seeking “to use the arms race…to weaken the Soviet Union…But we can match any challenge, although you might not think so.” Reagan answered: “we would prefer to sit down and get rid of nuclear weapons and with them the threat of war” and SDI would make that possible.

Now Reagan made a proposal that frightened some of his far-right supporters in this country: The U.S. would even share the SDI technology with the Soviet Union. Gorbachev stormed: SDI was “only one man’s dream.” Reagan asked why “it was so horrifying to seek to develop a defense against this awful threat?” The summit broke up inconclusively and Gorbachev went home to ponder.

Two months later, still in 1985, Gorbachev proposed that the U.S. and Soviet Union commit themselves to rid the world of nuclear weapons by 2000. Then at Reykajavik, Gorbachev accepted Reagan’s zero option, which would eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. He leaned over to Reagan and proposed a 50% cut in Soviet and U.S. strategic weapons.

Unfazed, Reagan countered by suggesting phasing out all ICBNs within the same period—and repeated his offer to share SDI. Reagan drew on his actor’s ability and added that he and Gorbachev would come to Iceland and each of them would bring the last nuclear missile from each country with them. Then they would give a tremendous party for the whole world… And then they would destroy the last missile.

No, said Gorbachev, NO. The U.S. would have to give up the right to deploy SDI. Angrily, Reagan walked out of the summit. They met a third time in Washington in December, 1987 at which time they DID sign a treaty dismantling all intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Later Writes academe’s ranking historian of the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis of Yale concludes that Gorbachev decided he couldn’t compete with the U.S.’s system, its military strength based on its capitalistic economic strength. The USSR capitulated two years later.

Was there a standoff that continued? No, ONE SIDE GAVE UP—THE USSR. What’s the matter with you, John? Don’t you know your history? And about free market economics…the nostrum you think is exaggerated by the Friedmanites…Gaddis writes this:

“Gorbachev’s impressionability showed up in economics. He had been aware, from his travels outside the Soviet Union before assuming the leadership that `people there…were better off than in our country.’ It seemed that ‘our aged leaders were not especially worried about our undeniably lower living standards, our unsatisfactory way of life and our falling behind in the field of advanced technology.’ But he had no clear sense of what to do about this.”

Gaddis adds: “So Secretary of State [George] Shultz, a former economics professor at Stanford, took it upon himself to educate the new Soviet leader.” And Shultz did. Gorbachev was greatly impressed. In his 1987 book “Perestroika,” he echoed some of Shultz’s thinking, “how can the economy advance if it creates preferential conditions for backward enterprises and penalizes the foremost ones?” When Reagan visited the USSR, Gorbachev arranged for him to lecture at Moscow State University on the virtues of market capitalism.

Gaddis forgets to mention only one thing. George Shultz had been dean of the University of Chicago School of Business and imbued with Milton Friedman’s entire concept. It is this thinking that McCarron disses as an incomplete expositor of human behavior—as incomplete as Freud’s nonsense that has been widely repudiated.

And majestically wrong-headed, McCarron who instructs budding journalists at Northwestern, goes on to say “the Friedmanites never comprehended that perfect markets, in which free men and women make well-informed decisions that benefit everyone over time, never existed and never will. Some have much better information than others. Some are more shrewd. Some are crooks and swindlers.”

Thinking that Milton Friedman’s concept of free markets and free society was based on 100% perfection is lunacy. He said he was a libertarian philosophically but a Republican for the sake of expediency, adding, “I am a libertarian with a small `l’ and a Republican with a capital ‘R.’ And I am a Republican with a capital ‘R’ on grounds of expedience, not on principle. I thinhk the term classical liberal is also equally applicable. I don’t really care very much what I’m called. I’m much more interested in having people thinking about the ideas rather than the person.” If that is the statement of an purist who cannot accommodate the real world, I’ll take vanilla.

Friedman was a pragmatist in politics but realized, as he later said, something that old relativist McCarron still hasn’t grasped:

“Free markets would undermine political centralization and political control.”

McCarron thinks the existence of “crooks and swindlers” repudiate Friedman economics. How weaknesses in the human condition undermine an economic theory is beyond me—and should have been beyond the editor who signed off on McCarron yesterday. Who signed off on it anyhow—the lady who used to write cookbooks who’s on the editorial board?

Prattles the old liberal: “…the hard lessons of the Gilded Age and the Great Depression, of trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt and of New Dealing FDR are long forgotten.” The Gilded Age brought America to a level of unprecedented prosperity with William McKinley when voters properly rejected the crazy nostrums of Free Silver William Jennings Bryan. Teddy Roosevelt was for all his stentorian “progressivism” a forerunner of modern liberal mediacentric egoists and, really, John you have to get out more and at least read Amity Shlaes (she’s a Chicago girl originally) on the fallacies of the New Deal and how it worsened the Depression.

“So what, now do we have to show for it?” You mean, John, after we won the Cold War? “Don’t look now but the rising economies of our world are Communist China”…which has begun to apply capitalist principles…”a heavily bureaucratized India”…ditto and the “totalitarian monarchies of the Persian Gulf” which have not applied free market principles, John but just squatters rights on their gushers. Get a life, McCarron.

The “Tribune” ought to continue to publish McCarron once a month—but along with him they ought to be sure that this old-style 1960s liberal relativist is paired with a glossary contradicting him with a history check. Yesterday would have been appropriate to run a sentence each on what Augustine stood for and what Freud believed. By not doing this news consumers are being as mis-led as the college students McCarron screws up as he did yesterday by dishing up bad theology, philosophy and economics in one fell swoop. It’s quite a task in one 700 word Op Ed to screw up the thinking of Augustine, Freud and Friedman.


  1. Tom,

    Friedman may not have believed in 100% perfection, but why would you buy into an economic system that uses greed (Friedman's own word) as its engine?

  2. Worse still are McCarron's appearances as a talking head on WTTW news programs. His opinions are utterly worthless defenses of the status quo and in Illinois that is not a good direction to follow.