Getting treatment

Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, notes that today bad behavior is thought of in terms of “addiction” and the need for “treatment.”  She prefers the concepts of sin and absolution:

The arc of modern scandal is depressingly familiar. Transgression followed by exposure, perhaps accompanied by a fleeting detour into denial. Then tearful confession and, finally, the inevitable journey to rehab.

Didn’t you know, from the moment the story broke, that New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner would end up checking himself in somewhere?

I don’t begrudge Weiner the therapy — he could no doubt use “professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” as his spokeswoman said in announcing that he would seek a leave of absence.

But whether or not Weiner manages to hang on, the episode underscores how rehab has become an all-purpose laundromat for irresponsible behavior, an infuriatingly easy substitute for accepting blame and living with consequences.

Increasingly, in our Rehab Nation, the concept of sin has been replaced by the language of addiction. Shame has been supplanted by therapeutic intervention. The disease model of misbehavior dictates that there are no bad people, only damaged individuals compelled to commit harmful acts. In this scenario, personal responsibility evaporates and virtue becomes an anachronism.

“This is not something that can be treated away,” Weiner said at his tearful news conference. One excruciating week later, Weiner was, yes, getting it treated away. The congressman, his spokeswoman said, “has determined that he needs this time to get healthy.” Excuse me, but this isn’t about Weiner’s health; it’s about his shameful behavior. . . .

Writing on Time.com, Maia Szalavitz, herself a former heroin and cocaine addict, described the dangers of defining addiction downward.

“If anyone can go to rehab when his actions lead to public humiliation, is rehab still a medical treatment or does it become some form of absolution?” she asked. “If every time someone behaves like a jerk and the reason behind it is addiction, doesn’t that mean addiction is just an excuse for bad behavior?”

via In Rehab Nation, sin becomes addiction – The Washington Post.

Of course, some bad behavior does need “treatment,” just as, theologically, some sin calls for spiritual counseling and pastoral care.  And yet simply medicalizing sin, as in Rep. Weiner’s case, seems like a way to duck responsibility.   How can we tell the difference?  What bad behavior calls for medical help and what calls for spiritual help?

“But it’s not really adultery!”

My old friend Karen Swallow Prior has some interesting observations about the excuses of both Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner and their underlying gnostic assumptions.  The good news is that the public is no longer buying it:

Media coverage of the story and the public’s reaction seems to indicate that we’ve come a long way in our professed sexual ethics since the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, circa 1998. At that time, then-President Bill Clinton insisted that oral sex did not constitute actual sex, and that he had therefore not committed adultery. Although 87 percent of Americans disagreed with Mr. Clinton then, much public discussion at that time centered on the exact definition of adultery, and which particular sex acts crossed the line (fellatio?) and which ones didn’t (cigars?).

However, with Weinergate (as the case, naturally, has been dubbed), the discussion is a bit more morally sophisticated. For the moral debate swirling around this scandal, besides whether or not Weiner should resign, centers not on the merely technical definition of adultery but on the more holistic, and even more biblical, idea of fidelity. If the Clinton sex scandal focused on the letter of the law, the Weiner situation seems to be more centered on the spirit of the law.

Neither the public nor the proliferating experts and bloggers seem to be buying into a bright line between actual physical contact (which Weiner denies) and online liaisons, despite Weiner’s attempt to cop that plea in his confession. In fact, a quick poll done by the Associated Press in the wake of his Monday confession found that many Americans say that it doesn’t have to be physical to be cheating. In another poll, “60 percent considered sending lewd photos over the Internet ‘to people other than your partner’ to be cheating.”

Like the public, experts, rather than being concerned with one specific sexual act, have been discussing the larger context of marital fidelity, one describing Weiner’s online behavior as “foreplay for an affair,” stating simply that “cheating is lying [to] and betraying your spouse.” Over and over, the experts are wisely identifying the litmus test for infidelity as the question, “Would you do this in front of your partner?” Many say the congressman’s conduct does constitute adultery or, at the very least, an “emotional affair.”

Both national sex scandals — first Clinton’s and now Anthony Weiner’s, with oodles more in between — reveal at work the old mind-body dualism that Christian tradition has worked hard to overcome. This dualism sees the human being not as an integrated whole self, but as a composite of warring elements, material vs. immaterial, physical vs. spiritual, and, in this brave new world of technology, “real” vs. “virtual.” The Clinton scandal emphasized the physical aspect, such as which kinds of bodily contact are considered adultery. Weiner, on the other hand, parses his transgressions according to this body-mind split: he acknowledges virtual liaisons, but suggests that his alleged lack of physical contact constitutes a difference in kind not degree.

In the space of a decade and a half, these two cases reflect a subtle transition of our cultural mindset away from a modernist way of thinking, one based in black and white classifications and definitions rooted in a scientific worldview, to a more nuanced (some would say postmodern) way of thinking that focuses more on the relationships and contexts that transcend the old categories.

via Her.meneutics: Anthony Weiner, Gnostic.

Concubines

Alan Wisdom has a brilliant article in Salvo, bringing back a word we need again and showing how different “just living together” and marriage really are:

In ancient times, there was an option for a man who desired a regular sex partner but did not wish to marry her. He could take a low-status woman as a concubine. He could enjoy her company as long as it pleased him, and he could dismiss her at any time. The man made no promises and signed no contract; consequently, the concubine had few legal protections. Any children that she bore would have an inferior legal status.

The early Church fought long and hard against concubinage. It insisted that such a sexual relationship, without the permanent and total commitment expressed in marriage vows, was immoral and unjust. Over the course of a thousand years, concubinage retreated into the shadows of social disapproval.

In the past 40 years, it seems, concubinage has come to light again under a different name. Like ancient concubinage, contemporary cohabitation is a deliberately ambiguous relationship. The partners make no promises and have no legal obligations to one another. The arrangement has no specified duration and can be terminated at a moment’s notice. Those who cohabit tend to be of lower social status. Their children, on average, do not fare as well as children born to married couples.

Defenders of cohabitation portray it as just a more flexible form of marriage. The love is the same as in marriage, they say; all that is missing is “a piece of paper,” the marriage certificate. Some see cohabitation as a “trial marriage.” They assume that living together will confirm a couple’s compatibility and reduce the odds that a subsequent marriage might end in divorce.

Social science does not support any of these assertions. By every measure, cohabitation is a very different relationship from marriage. Marriages are formed by a series of decisive, publicly announced events: A proposal is made, it is accepted, an engagement is announced, friends and family gather for a wedding, vows and rings are exchanged, and two formerly single persons are declared to be married. By contrast, many couples quietly drift into cohabitation. They gradually spend more time together, one moves his or her possessions piece by piece into the other’s residence, one allows his or her lease to expire, and eventually they realize that they are living together full-time.

The two relationships differ dramatically in durability. The average marriage lasts several decades; the average cohabitation, only 15 months. Because their time horizons are longer, married people are much more likely to invest in one another. Husbands and wives almost always pool their assets. They have a single household budget that does not separate “his” and “her” money. They take responsibility for each other’s debts and inherit each other’s estates.

via Salvo Magazine: Cohabitation: Marriage Lite or the New Concubinage? – Salvo 15.

Read the rest of it, the differences between concubinage and marriage go on and on.  Pity the poor concubine.  Once again we see ourselves progressing at breakneck speed back to primitivism.

UPDATE:  Of course there are differences between the ancient practice of concubinage and today’s “living together,” but the point of similarity is that both are a type of “marriage lite.”  Having or being a concubine bears some similarity to marriage and  exists parallel to that institution but is easily dissolvable.

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The legacy of Dr. Death

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. “Dr. Death,” died the other day, of natural causes and not by his own hand.  Dr. Kevorkian was a practitioner of “physician-assisted suicide” and a hero to the euthanasia movement.  Ross Douthat has  brilliant op-ed piece in the New York Times, no less, that questions his legacy.  A sample:

We are all dying, day by day: do the terminally ill really occupy a completely different moral category from the rest? A cancer patient’s suffering isn’t necessarily more unbearable than the more indefinite agony of someone living with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia or manic depression. And not every unbearable agony is medical: if a man losing a battle with Parkinson’s disease can claim the relief of physician-assisted suicide, then why not a devastated widower, or a parent who has lost her only child?

This isn’t a hypothetical slippery slope. Jack Kevorkian spent his career putting this dark, expansive logic into practice. He didn’t just provide death to the dying; he helped anyone whose suffering seemed sufficient to warrant his deadly assistance. When The Detroit Free Press investigated his “practice” in 1997, it found that 60 percent of those he assisted weren’t actually terminally ill. In several cases, autopsies revealed “no anatomical evidence of disease.”

This record was ignored or glossed over by his admirers. (So were the roots of his interest in euthanasia: Kevorkian was obsessed with human experimentation, and pined for a day when both assisted suicides and executions could be accompanied by vivisection.) After his release from prison in 2007, he was treated like a civil rights revolutionary rather than a killer — with fawning interviews on “60 Minutes,” $50,000 speaking engagements, and a hagiographic HBO biopic starring Al Pacino.

Fortunately, the revolution Kevorkian envisioned hasn’t yet succeeded. Despite decades of agitation, only three states allow some form of physician-assisted suicide. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous 1997 decision, declined to invent a constitutional right to die. There is no American equivalent of the kind of suicide clinics that have sprung up in Switzerland, providing painless poisons to a steady flow of people from around the globe.

Writing in The Atlantic three years ago, Bruce Falconer profiled one such clinic: Dignitas, founded by a former journalist named Ludwig Minelli, which charges around $6,000 for its ministrations. Like Kevorkian, Minelli sees himself as a crusader for what he calls “the last human right.” And like Kevorkian, he sees no reason why this right — “a marvelous possibility given to a human being,” as he describes it — should be confined to the dying. (A study in The Journal of Medical Ethics suggested that 21 percent of the people whom Dignitas helps to commit suicide are not terminally ill.)

But unlike Kevorkian, Minelli has been free to help kill the suicidal without fear of prosecution. In the last 15 years, more than 1,000 people have made their final exit under his supervision, eased into eternity by a glass of sodium pentobarbital.

Were Minelli operating in the United States, he might well have as many apologists and admirers as the late Dr. Death. But it should make us proud of our country that he would likely find himself in prison, where murderers belong.

via Dr. Kevorkian’s Victims – NYTimes.com.

HT:  Gabriel Torretta

The Honorable Anthony Weiner

So Congressional Representative Anthony Weiner, D-NY, now admits that he twittered the lewd photo and has been lying about it.  And now it turns out the congressman has been sexting and exposing himself to other women.

See Anthony Weiner admits he sent photo, but won’t resign – The Fix – The Washington Post.

I refuse to make any of the obvious jokes and bawdy wordplay.  I find the whole episode repellant, but it seems telling for the degradation of our politicians and the way our brilliant technology is being used for such base, degrading purposes.

I don’t have anything else to say about this.  If you do, go ahead.  But don’t be base and degrading yourself.

Absolute ethics vs. Pragmatism

If postmodernists are right in saying that there are no absolutes of truth or morality, how can they function?  The answer, according to both the masses and philosophers such as Richard Rorty, is pragmatism.  Just do what “works.”  Don’t worry about what is true or what is good, just pursue your practical agenda.

Now pragmatism is a philosophy, an ideology, and a worldview that is utterly opposed to Christianity.  And yet many Christians adopt it unthinkingly, determining the way they worship and the things they teach according to the tenets of pragmatism.  (We want to get more people to join our churches, so let’s eliminate the obstacles to that, whether in practice or theology.)

It’s interesting to see how people who perceive a moral issue nevertheless appeal to pragmatism to make a better case.   For example, in the debates about torture, most of those who reject the practice do so on moral grounds but then make a pragmatic claim:  Torture doesn’t work anyway!

Conversely, many people who do hold to moral absolutes often revert to pragmatism.  Yes, torture may be wrong in principle, but if we could save a thousand lives by torturing one person, it would be worth it.  (This is actually an example of Enlightenment-era utilitarianism, which sought to evade Biblical absolutes and to justify the abuses of the Industrial Revolution by promoting “the greater good for the greater number.”)

Now it appears that torture actually DOES work.  Not by crudely getting someone to tell the truth to make the pain stop–which, of course, would encourage saying ANYTHING–but by a sophisticated process of psychological manipulation.

M. Gregg Bloche, a physician and lawyer, faces up to the fact that his fellow liberals need to be willing to oppose torture on moral grounds even though it works pragmatically.  A sample:

Torture, liberals like me often insist, isn’t just immoral, it’s ineffective. We like this proposition because it portrays us as protectors of the nation, not wusses willing to risk American lives to protect terrorists. And we love to quote seasoned interrogators’ assurances that building rapport with the bad guys will get them to talk. . . .

The idea that waterboarding and other abuses may have been effective in getting information from detainees is repellant to many, including me. It’s contrary to the meme many have embraced: that torture doesn’t work because people being abused to the breaking point will say anything to get the brutality to stop — anything they think their accusers want to hear.

But this position is at odds with some behavioral science, I’ve learned. The architects of enhanced interrogation are doctors who built on a still-classified, research-based model that suggests how abuse can indeed work.

I’ve examined the science, studied the available paper trail and interviewed key actors, including several who helped develop the enhanced interrogation program and who haven’t spoken publicly before. This inquiry has made it possible to piece together the model that undergirds enhanced interrogation.

This model holds that harsh methods can’t, by themselves, force terrorists to tell the truth. Brute force, it suggests, stiffens resistance. Rather, the role of abuse is to induce hopelessness and despair. That’s what sleep deprivation, stress positions and prolonged isolation were designed to do. Small gestures of contempt — facial slaps and frequent insults — drive home the message of futility. Even the rough stuff, such as “walling” and waterboarding, is meant to dispirit, not to coerce.

Once a sense of hopelessness is instilled, the model holds, interrogators can shape behavior through small rewards. Bathroom breaks, reprieves from foul-tasting food and even the occasional kind word can coax broken men to comply with their abusers’ expectations.

Certainly, interrogators using this approach have obtained false confessions. Chinese interrogators did so intentionally, for propaganda purposes, with American prisoners during the Korean War. McCain and other critics of “torture-lite” cite this precedent to argue that it can’t yield reliable information. But the same psychological sequence — induction of hopelessness, followed by rewards to shape compliance — can be used to get terrorism suspects to tell the truth, or so the architects of enhanced interrogation hypothesize.

Critical to this model is the ability to assess suspects’ truthfulness in real time. To this end, CIA interrogators stressed speedy integration of intelligence from all sources. The idea was to frame questions to detect falsehoods; interrogators could then reward honesty and punish deceit.

via Torture-lite: It’s wrong, and it might work – The Washington Post.

So can those of you who oppose torture AND those of you who believe it justified make your case WITHOUT referring to pragmatic arguments?


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