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E-Pluribus | September 15, 2022
A feature and a bug, ideology and surgery don't mix, and get ready for a new acronym: DGH (decolonize global health.)
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Sean Illing and Zac Gershberg: The Greatest Threat to Democracy Is a Feature of Democracy
The concept of risk and reward is well established, and democracy itself is no exception. At The New York Times, Sean Illing of Vox (yes, Vox) and Idaho State University associate professor Zac Gershberg write of the inherent potential dangers to democracy that free expression represents, yet at the same time emphasizing that democracy would not truly be democracy without it.
We may think that these clashes over the Mar-a-Lago search and over the state of our democracy are an aberration, a Trump thing. But they are actually the latest example — increased in intensity by the internet — of something that has been a permanent part of our politics, what we call the paradox of democracy.
Far more than a bundle of laws, norms and institutions, democracy is an open culture of communication that affords people the right to think, speak and act and allows every possible means of persuasion. That makes every democratic society uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of communication. We may not like it, but something like Jan. 6 is always potentially in the offing.
We ought to avoid the naïveté of liberal fantasy, which imagines we can impose reliable guardrails against dangerous or deceptive speech. Indeed, there’s a whole genre of articles and books arguing that social media is destroying democracy. Because of changes to online platforms around a decade ago, wrote Jonathan Haidt recently, “People could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogeneous tribes.”
But this is precisely what an unwieldy democratic culture looks like. Depending on the communications environment, a democracy can foster reliable, respectful norms, or it can devolve into outrageous propaganda, widespread cynicism and vitriolic partisanship.
[ . . . ]
The paradox at the heart of this debate — the idea that democracy contains the ingredients for its own destruction — tells us that free expression and its sometimes troubling consequences are a feature, not a bug. What sometimes changes are novel forms of media, which come along and clear democratic space for all manner of persuasion. Patterns of bias and distortion and propaganda accompany each evolution.
Read it all.
Richard Bosshardt: Critical Race Theory Is Bad Medicine
Pluribus often includes article on the impacts of woke ideology on the healthcare field. Richard Bosshardt writes at The Wall Street Journal that the field of surgery is no exception and that his attempts to push back within the American College of Surgeons have been met with bans silencing.
The American College of Surgeons apparently believes its members are racially biased and provide worse care to patients of color than we do to white patients, leading to disparate health outcomes. It is also sending the message that we need antiracist re-education to overcome our inherent prejudices. Such extraordinary assertions call for the strongest evidence, but the college has yet to provide any.
Many surgeons, including me, have raised concerns about the decline of our professional society, which plays a critical role in helping surgeons maintain the highest standards of patient care. We have mainly raised the alarm through online forums hosted by the college. In March, college leadership banned discussion of critical race theory, antiracism, and diversity, equity and inclusion on all clinical forums. Today, “only posts about clinical issues and direct care of surgical patients will be permitted.”
If these concepts don’t directly pertain to clinical practice, then why is the college aggressively propagating them? In its own words, the college is “dedicated to improving the care of the surgical patient and to safeguarding standards of care.” By elevating ideology, the college is undermining this essential and life-saving mission. It is deliberately promoting ideas that sow distrust among doctors and patients, insult the integrity of professional surgeons and reduce the quality of the care we provide.
As a professional society, the college owes its members a frank and honest discussion about the merits of its actions and these ideas. Instead, it is silencing dissent. After I continued to raise concerns about the pervasiveness of critical race theory and the antiracist philosophy, the college banned me from the online forums and blocked my access to a nationwide directory of my peers.
Read the whole thing.
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Trish Nayna Schwerdtle: The Problem with “Decolonizing” Global Health
Some have taken the recent occasion of the death of Queen Elizabeth to decry the lingering effects of colonialism around the globe. At Persuasion, Trish Nayna Schwerdtle introduces us to the “decolonize global health” (DGH) movement, an attempt to de-Westernize medicine and limit the West’s influence on developing, a move that if successful, would likely adversely affect the health of many in those nations ostensibly being liberated.
But in the past few years, an academic and cultural movement calling to “decolonize global health” (DGH) has come to have the potential to undermine these core principles. While there is no single agreed-upon definition of DGH, the most extreme version argues that global health is a form of modern colonization, calls for an overhaul of the discipline, and seeks to limit “Western” influence on developing nations. Some advocates of this movement have gone so far as to call for the field of global health to be dismantled altogether. In doing so, and despite alleged good intentions, the radical edge of this movement may unwittingly threaten the right to health of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
The DGH critique rests on two main arguments, which can be evaluated independently.
The first asserts that global health has been designed to maintain established power asymmetries, since it is rooted in an extension of “Western knowledge” which, the argument goes, is inherently colonial in nature. According to this argument, global health’s emphasis on research-based evidence over “lived experience” is unjust and also serves to entrench power hierarchy.
This argument contradicts the widely accepted and long-standing scientific principles and social rules which emphatically hold that a claim must be judged on merit—independent of the status and identity of the person making the claim. Furthermore, there is nothing exclusively Western about reason, humanism, and the scientific method. Arguing that the scientific method is white and Western demeans researchers from other backgrounds and dismisses their contributions to modern science.
Read it all here.
After Martina Navratilova retweeted the following tweet of a comedian’s remarks on “what a woman is,” a commenter took her to tasks for being “anti-trans.” Navratilova begged to differ:
Here’s Kmele and Andrew Sullivan on the communications company Twilio’s declaration that recent layoffs “were carried out through an Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppression lens”:
Finally, via the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), Sarah Haider on how freedom of religion must run in both directions: