Snobbery’s Menace

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Politics can be a mean way of life, filled with scurrilous attacks on opponents, replete with prevarication, and downright lying. I stay away from it, as much as possible.

Case in point, just the other day former Vermont governor and one time seeker of the Oval Office, Howard Dean, took a shot at Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, commenting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “The issue is, how well-educated is this guy?”

Walker, who may throw his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination in 2016, dropped out of college almost at the finish line in the spring of his senior year to join the Red Cross.

Our Constitution, however, lists only three prerequisites for our nation’s highest office: natural born citizen, at least 35 years old, and a minimum of 14 years lived in the United States.

Maybe Dean and others of his stripe might want to try amending our Constitution to secure their elitist government.

I would contend our government is just too elitist as it is, an oligarchy of power interests distanced from the vast majority of working Americans, three quarters of whom don’t sport a college degree.

I would also question the underlying assumption that a college degree automatically confers knowledgeability on anyone for any job.

I was a prof for 40 years and I can tell you first hand my students learned best, not from books or lecture, but hands-on. That’s what internships are all about, Dean, and you of all people, a medical doctor, should know this, since M. D.’s do a year of internship followed by several years of residency.

I have to confess I made a lot of dumb mistakes as a young prof despite 10 years of college before I was really fit to step into the classroom.

I would like to ask Dean how it was, judging by his own maxim, he was suddenly fit to be governor having trained to be a physician. That’s a huge gap. Maybe Rand Paul can help us out here.

My father had only an elementary school education, dropping out of the public schools like so many of his generation in the pre-World War I years. Like several of my uncles, he worked as a leather tacker for all of his working life in a brutal environment of body-sapping humidity and toxic fumes in one of the most deprived areas of Philly.

But for all his lack of schooling, he was one of the wisest men I’ve known across a life time, intuitive, and possessed of a healthy dose of skepticism whenever the facts didn’t seem to line up.

Not only do I owe my love of baseball to him, but the importance of being aware of what’s going on the world. The TV evening news with John Cameron Swayze or Douglas Edwards was time out and you’d better not be talking while they were on.

Every Sunday morning, he’d send me up the block for the Philadelphia Inquirer, just a dime then (imagine!) and split the newspaper with me on my return, which I’d eagerly devour, sprawled out on the floor. At 10, I was fully aware of a new war in a far off place called Korea, and spell bound by the firing of MacArthur not long after.

I remember his love for Winston Churchill, who had warned the West in the early thirties of the menace of Joseph Stalin.

My father was always slow to swallow the government line, speculating that we might never really know the facts behind that “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor, a surmise that historian John Toland’s recent book. Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, lends credence to.

I take offense when the snobs start wagging their tongues, the privileged lording it over the common herd, whether in the political area or anywhere else

Money, celebrity and, unfortunately, education–one of the most rampant bastions of elitism– can become divisive weaponry in putting down others to boost yourself up.

Or to efface those opinions you don’t like. Dummies!

Snobs always want to impress. As Virginia Woolf put it, herself a snob, “The essence of snobbery is that you wish to impress other people.”

I like best how one of my favorite authors, D. H. Lawrence, who came from miner stock, defined it: “[Snobbery] is the desire for what divides men and the inability to value what unites them.”

Ah, let me call to mind just a few names of those from a humble way of life, without college diplomas, who have made a positive mark upon the world. You just may be surprised:

In Science:

Thomas Edison

George Washington Carver

In Business:

Henry Ford

John D. Rockefeller

Steve Jobs

Mark Zuckerberg

In the Arts

Thomas Hardy

Mark Twain

William Faulkner

Vincent Van Gogh

William Shakespeare

In Politics

Andrew Jackson

John Glenn

Winston Churchill

Abraham Lincoln

These are my heroes.

These are my greats!

My favorite people also spring from everyday people I’ve known who never did a mean social thing in their lives like dismissing others for their lack of money, possessions, or the right diploma; or practicing a trade; or for being Black, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, or gay; or because their political beliefs don’t mesh.

I measure people by a different yardstick: people who inspire with their kindness and compassion, from every walk of life, whose praise comes from the mouths of others and not their own; whose intelligence makes room for them to lead; who, to go back to Lawrence, unite rather than divide.

I like Shaw’s wisdom in his play Pygmalion, where he has Professor Henry Higgins put his finger on what makes for good manners–not whether what you do is in itself good or bad, but that you behave the same way towards everyone.

I must warn, however of another kind of elitism that has taken vogue, of a pride in defiance, or smashing icons for its own sake; a snobbery of rebellion where even norms that have given life grace, and with it, expectancy, are trampled upon in a frenzied allegiance to a vulgarity of self-indulgence of antinomian hue.

Snobbery is a way of life that will always be with us, but you and I, forewarned, needn’t embrace it and, by doing so, gain so much more.

–rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fountain of Youth: We are all Ponce de Leon

medical-symbol1As a 12-year old Florida school boy, I was introduced early to the 16th century Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon, whom legend says came to Florida in quest of the Fountain of Youth.  Drink or bathe in its waters and you could be young again.  A story-line like this isn’t unique, finding its replay in myth and legend throughout the world. 

Its insistence  doesn’t surprise us at all, since it mirrors our consummate dream to stay young, not for its own sake, but because we associate youth with beauty, vigor, and libido, or from another angle, the absence of chronic ills like coronary disease, cancer, arthritis, and God only knows what, that often define our later years.  All the parts are new and they work well and at 25 we may sometimes think ourselves immortal.  We dream not just ordinary dreams, but visionary ones that say I can and I will.

Sooner or later, we are all Ponce de Leon, clutching to “the splendors in the grass” (Wordsworth).  Our ads promulgate our folly with promised effulgences of youth’s attributes, abolishing gray, dissolving winkles, restoring passion.

But even medicine itself increasingly wanders into the Ponce de Leon camp these days, some doctors proffering we may soon banish the ills of our human sojourn, advancing our life span dramatically into the 100 year range what with the promise of genetics making individualized therapies possible, perhaps a pill as it were targeting your specific ill, say cancer.

This is pretty much the message of Dr. David Agus’ fascinating The End of Illness, sort of what we do now at the car shop or electronics outlet, plugging into a computer that in seconds spits out solution.  He tells the story of 44-year old Bill Weir, host of ABC’s Nightline, who volunteered to go live, or cameras rolling in prime time, as the newest medical technology imputed his medical data at USC University Hospital.

It was the whole works, including not only blood tests and CT scans, but DNA analysis to assess his hereditary risk for illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer and about 32 other disease scenarios.  A CT uncovered substantial calcium build-up in Weir’s coronary arteries, narrowing his arteries and portending a possible heart attack in the next several years.  He had seemed a very healthy man until testing found him out.

The point is that we can increasingly predict and find impending diseases, and employing  intervention therapy, reduce if not eliminate, their threat.  Because of the high expense, sounds to me like you want to make sure you and your loved ones have the best possible medical coverage.  In the end, prevention may well be less costly than treating a patient with cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Here I agree with those in Agus’ camp.  Take those prescribed pills, undergo the recommended testings, etc.  Consider pancreatic cancer, for example, a disease that takes no prisoners and recently killed actor Patrick Swayze, astronaut Sally Ride, and Apple’s Steve Jobs.  It’s an insidious illness that manifests its symptoms when it’s usually too late.  Still, you can undergo an annual complete abdominal ultrasound, MRI, or CT and gain a chance to nip the culprit in the bud.

But do I think medicine in the next 25 years will largely eliminate illness?  I will only say I think the jury’s still out on this one, though I’m doubtful. There is the expense; human inertia; new diseases in an increasingly global village appearing, impervious to our best antibiotics and the lengthy interval in developing new ones.  Even Agus contradicts his own optimism in predicting the inevitability of a pandemic:

The swine flu scare that occurred in 2009 will someday be dwarfed by a real epidemic that will spread rapidly through virgin immune systems and kill millions in its path (as happened, for example, in the flu epidemic of 1918, when an estimated 50 million to 100 million people died) (p. 277).

And I think the title of his book extravagant.  It may spawn sales, but little else, for fragile beings that we are, fraught with mortality, we share the fate of all living creatures, governed in the end by entropy.  We will never arrest illness completely, though we may at times lessen its impacting, and even its timing, by employing health enhancing strategies that will also lend quality to our lives.

At present, the American medical establishment is in breakdown mode.  While heart disease has shown a decrease, cancer continues to plague us.  Apart from disease, our doctors kill up to 200,000 patients yearly by way of medical mistakes; 50 million of us have no insurance; 25 million of us are underinsured.  Meanwhile, our unhealthy lifestyle continues to menace both our health and our wallets.  We have more diabetics than ever, for example.  Many of us are just plain fat.

I’d like to continue this subject in a later post and tell you things you can do specifically to help safeguard the health of yourself and loved ones, though I can’t promise you centenarian status.  Only 1 in 20,000 achieves that!

–rj

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