The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Wrist Slaps for Everyone’

Posted on | February 22, 2011 | 3 Comments

That’s Allahpundit’s prognosis for the outcome of the “investigation” of University of Wisconsin doctors writing bogus excuses for protesters in Madison:

This involves a few individuals out of the nearly 1,300 physicians at UW Health.
These UW Health physicians were acting on their own and without the knowledge or approval of UW Health. These charges are very serious and in response, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation, the UW Health entities that employ the physicians, have immediately launched an investigation of the reported behavior.
The investigation will identify which UW Health physicians were involved and whether their behavior constituted violations of medical ethics or University of Wisconsin and UW Health policies and work rules.

The situation in Madison illustrates what happens when “medical ethics” meets “social justice”:

Although this might seem an outrageous breach of professional ethics, it is actually entirely consistent with the new brand of “progressive” medical ethics currently taught to medical students. . . .
In 2002, the American College of Physicians proposed a charter in which the three guiding ethical principles for physicians would be: patient welfare, patient autonomy, and “social justice.” In 2007, the AMA ITME (American Medical Association Initiative to Transform Medical Education) reported on the importance of training medical students to be better advocates for “social justice,” and proposed changes in the medical school admissions criteria and curriculum to address this perceived inadequacy.

And let’s face it: Once doctors are taught that abortion is a “right,” any traditional concept of “medical ethics” becomes invalid. Whence did such value-judgments (e.g., that the “right” to abortion trumps the physician’s interest in preserving life, or that the “right” of protesting budget cuts justifies a bogus medical excuse) arrive in our institutions of higher learning? How did these ideas entrench themselves so deeply in academia?

It seems to me relevant here to quote this passage about the “Superstition of Academic Freedom”:

“The extent to which relativism has conquered the thinking processes of the academic freedomites would, on reflection, I believe, astound even the most emphatic of their number. For they proceed on the proposition that the more education, the more visible the truth. This itself gives one pause. The philosophical issues that divided the Greeks in their quest for the truth were far simpler and less divergent than those that divide us today after twenty-five hundred years of education. And as a corollary, described above, they believe that the more education, especially of the sort which pleads the case of all values, the more certain it is that a man will be induced to embrace the truth. But the implications of this theory are nothing short of anarchistic. Two students, with equal equipment and training, will often graduate with markedly divergent opinions about what is truth. If they continue with their studies, one may become a Dewey, the other a Maritain [reference is to a Catholic philosopher]. Or one may affirm democracy, the other totalitarianism. Which of the two is in fact closer to the truth? The academic freedomite finds himself had put to commit himself here if his propositions are to stand up.  Truth, their argument on behalf of laissez-faire education compels them to admit, is whatever each individual considers truth to be. Otherwise, the educational overseer would be privileged to arrive at conclusions as to what is truth (or the nearest available thing to it) and what is error. And having done this, he would surely feel compelled to instruct his faculty to discourage the one and encourage the other.”
William F. Buckley Jr., God and Man at Yale (1951)

Thus Buckley six decades ago found the educational elite uncommitted to any firm conception of truth, so that they were unwilling to forbid, for example, the propagation of Marxist philosophy. Buckley charged that this implausible doctrine of “academic freedom” fostered relativism, and he evidently feared that this relativism favored error over truth.

Where are we now, sixty years after Buckley’s famous warning? We find that the intellectual and moral relativism that was so fashionable in academia in the 1950s has now, in large measure, given way to radical certainty.

Academia made a surprisingly swift march from the noncommital “academic freedom” of the Fifties to the quasi-totalitarian political correctness that governs campus life today. Whereas the Yale administration of 1951 would not take action against Communist faculty promoting their doctrine of “progressive social justice,” nowadays students, faculty and administrators at American universities are expected to demonstrate unquestioning fealty to such doctrines — and woe to anyone who dares speak out against them.

Lacking the courage to forbid the teaching error 60 years ago, academics nowadays do not hesitate to forbid the teaching of truth.

And “academic freedom,” we see in hindsight, was merely a philosophical way-station on this route to the Reign of Error.

Whereas any university would have once acted swiftly against doctors who engaged in purposeful fraud — incontrovertibly documented on video — the University of Wisconsin now equivocates in announcing an investigation to determine “whether their behavior constituted violations of medical ethics” or university policy. I’m stunned, but perhaps should not be, by how Dr. Ford Vox begins his examination of this fraud:

Fears over becoming hostage to soaring health insurance premiums has Wisconsin’s teachers and other public employees protesting in downtown Madison for the second week running. It’s a very real threat to their economic stability, one they’ll be ill-equipped to tackle without the unionizing rights proposed legislation would deny them.

Why should government employees be exempted from “soaring health insurance premiums”? Why should taxpayers be expected not only to pay these employees salaries well above the income of the average Wisconsin resident, but also to cover the entire cost of these employees’ “Cadillac” insurance plans?

Dr. Vox does not even seem to recognize the relevance of such a question, much less feel any need to answer it. No: Their “unionizing rights” are at stake, and this is enough to quell any skepticism on the part of the Boston neurologist. His own radical certainty about their “rights” prevents him from seeing that the Wisconsin employees are engaged in rent-seeking, as Mona Charen explains.

This kind of ideology-induced blindness can be expected when the only question asked in any controversy is Lenin’s “Who? Whom?” and the only ethical guidelines for those who conceive themselves to be fighting for “social justice” is By Any Means Necessary.


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