Not by Bread Alone
Brink Lindsey undertook the considerable task of finding personal fulfillment in capitalism ("Personal Best," July). As the article states, there is challenge to be found on "every level" of free capitalist business. But that point begs the question of whether such competition is personally fulfilling.
The fact that something is challenging does not mean that its completion is fulfilling. For many secretaries, it is a challenge to maintain composure in the face of degradation. The average executive is "challenged" by a mountain of paperwork drudgery daily; its elimination is more depressing than rewarding, as she knows that it will only be replaced by a similar pile the next day.
Lindsey's examples of fulfillment through capitalism are valid enough, but they are hardly common. Mundane and unrewarding "challenges" are far more numerous, and it is simple statistical distortion to lump them in with "rewarding challenges" only because they are "challenging."
What constitutes a meaningful challenge is different for every person. It is absurd to assume that any one system, even one as broad and undifferentiated as "capitalism," holds the key to personal fulfillment for everyone. While capitalism is certainly no worse than any other "ism" in terms of providing "Maslovian meaning," I am hard pressed to find it superior in any respect.
Andrew D. Melnick
New Orleans, LA
I was disturbed that Brink Lindsey felt he had to apologize for fast-food restaurants, shopping malls, tabloids, and "so on ad nauseam." I shudder to think what life was like in the 1300s for the poor. What would the people who now eat at McDonald's, shop at K-Mart, and read the National Enquirer have had to do for food, necessities, and entertainment back then? Does Mr. Lindsey himself not fall into the trap of romanticizing the feudal period when he criticizes "obsessive materialism and crass commercialism"?
And why is capitalism responsible for the "darker and dangerous side" of "commercial ambition"? Our society produces George Babbitts not because of capitalism, but because it has been stifling individualism and independent thought for most of this century. Capitalism provides individuals with freedom to provide for their own welfare. Teaching them ethics, self-esteem, and the meaning of life is the job of philosophers, not economists.
James Wm. Clement
Brink Lindsey builds on Abraham Maslow's concept of "self-actualization." Yet Maslow clearly identified the needs Lindsey describes as "esteem needs," not the higher self-actualization needs. Professional success matters little if one longs to be a poet or a musician. One "must be true to his own nature," Maslow wrote. He rejects as a failed "myth" the theory of "the Economic Man," that under capitalism, "individual happiness and welfare would be sure to result," instead calling for "the psychologically healthy man."
Lindsey also invokes Alexis de Tocqueville. While Tocqueville acknowledged the justness of a free society, he feared its spiritual consequences. He writes of the challenges extolled by Lindsey that, "while man takes delight in this proper and legitimate quest for prosperity, there is a danger that in the end he may lose the use of his sublimest faculties and that, bent on improving everything around him, he may at length degrade himself….Therefore it is ever the duty of lawgivers and of all upright educated men to raise up the souls of their fellow citizens and turn their attention towards heaven."
Lindsey's thesis that free-market challenges satisfy "spiritual needs" only underscores his peculiar concept of the spiritual, a perspective not shared by most of the authors he cites. I too have savored the satisfaction of creating a complex computer program, as Lindsey describes, but the experience taught me nothing about purpose and virtue.
The Greek philosophers advised us to seek the good by pursuing truth, beauty, and justice. Capitalism leads us to seek profit, replacing the classic virtues with advertising, allure, and market share. This leaves most in a spiritual void, if not outright disgust. They stay whole only through truly spiritual pursuits such as philosophy, religion, and art. I support capitalism, but I don't entertain fanciful notions about its "spiritual" benefits.
Mr. Lindsey replies: The correspondents let me have it from both sides. James Clement is upset that I lay crassness and Babbittry at capitalism's doorstep. Meanwhile, Andrew Melnick and Stuart Reges scoff at the idea that there is anything uplifting and spiritual about life in commercial society. Though it's not familiar territory, I think I'll stay in the mushy middle. Capitalism, neither paradise nor hell, is an imperfect social order that nonetheless is superior to any known alternative.
Mr. Clement argues that miserable peasants of the 1300s wouldn't be so contemptuous of fast food, shopping malls, etc. But the issue isn't whether we should go back to the 14th century; it's whether we can make contemporary society, with all its blessings, a little less vulgar and mindless.
Mr. Melnick points out that not all job-related challenges are rewarding challenges. That is true, but it is also true that not every moment in the day need be nirvana for you to consider your job, on the whole, fulfilling. Even people who love their work are undoubtedly familiar with tedium and stress, conflict and frustration.
That said, I admitted in my article that "fulfillment on the job is by no means universal, and may even be the exception rather than the rule." My modest point is only that capitalism—through the extravagant variety of jobs it creates and the ever-growing premium it places on creativity—offers the mass of people better opportunities to find challenging and rewarding work than either the traditional village economy it replaced or the socialist economy that tried and failed to replace it.
I explicitly based my discussion of self-actualization on Charles Murray's interpretation of Maslow, as opposed to Maslow's actual writings. Nonetheless, Maslow wrote that "self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption." That captures perfectly what I meant by fulfilling work: work that (for some sufficient part of the time) you find so intrinsically enjoyable that you "lose yourself" in it.
Of course Tocqueville warned against the dangers of shallowness and pettiness under democratic capitalism; passages such as the one Mr. Reges cites can be found throughout Democracy in America, and on almost every page of volume two. While Tocqueville spoke out forcefully and eloquently about the free society's characteristic vices, it is clear to any careful reader that he believed freedom's virtues outweighed those vices. Of the ethos of a free society, he said: "Some individuals it lowers, but mankind it raises." Tocqueville saw the free society as an advance, albeit a problematic one, in the development of the human spirit.
Finally, it is Mr. Reges who has the peculiar, and impoverished, conception of the spiritual. For him the only "truly spiritual pursuits" are such things as philosophy, religion, and art; outside the Platonic academy, apparently, there is only a "spiritual void." In other words, Mr. Reges can find no place for the spiritual in everyday life, in the life of family and work. To which I can only say: too bad for Mr. Reges.
Review of the Reviewer
Jacob Sullum is that rarest gem among book reviewers: one who is willing to give a fair reading to a book whose conclusions he does not endorse. His thoughtful review of my book Against Excess ("Bringing Up the Middle," July) is a model of open-mindedness, careful reading, and well-reasoned criticism. It also has the unusual virtue of giving its reader some notion of the tone and content of the book under review. Many thanks.
John F. Kennedy School of Government
I was deeply saddened to read Ruth Shalit's unkind attack on rape survivors and their advocates ("Radical Exhibitionists," July). By demeaning rape survivors who tell their stories as "crowd-pleasing exhibitionists," Ms. Shalit will shame women into silence, fear, and pain.
Ms. Shalit discusses one incident of a college student who later recanted a story she told at a Take Back the Night march. She then leaps to the dangerous conclusion that the phenomenon of telling itself is suspect. First, it is unclear why the Princeton student who initially told a detailed story of a brutal rape in a supportive environment later recanted after secret meetings with school officials. We know only that, facing a formal complaint from the alleged perpetrator and the dean of students' view that she had "compromised" the student's "reputation in the community," the woman recanted. Perhaps her story was true. Perhaps not. But this issue has nothing to do with the importance of survivors' telling their stories.
Most rape victims suffer alone in silence, believing that they are responsible, that no one will believe them, that they will not be protected. They struggle to live with their secrets. Secrecy causes them psychological anguish, compounding and complicating their original injuries. Sometimes secrecy becomes too great to bear. If she cannot tell anyone what happened to her, the rape victim will lapse into severe depression, anxiety, and shame. Virtually all seriously consider suicide at some time after the abuse.
Telling is an essential act of healing for the survivor. It makes it possible for her to get understanding and help. It helps her admit to herself what happened. It allows her to see herself through the eyes of another, to feel compassion for herself. It can distance the survivor from her pain, and help her to grow into a strong, capable woman. In short, telling transforms her from a victim (defined by the act on the perpetrator) into a survivor (self-defined) and permits her to get on with her life.
Public telling, such as at a Take Back the Night March, is important for both the survivor and the audience. The survivor receives support and nurturance from an audience that believes her, and she feels empowered as a result of taking a horrifying life event and controlling it through her telling. Silent victims in the audience learn that they are not alone, that they too can survive. And perpetrators and would-be rapists lose their greatest protection, silence and fear.
Several years ago I revealed publicly that I am a rape survivor. Since that time, women have approached me everywhere I go to tell me their stories and to express their gratitude for my telling. They have told me they felt empowered, and they in turn have opened my eyes to the prevalence of sexual abuse and the importance of speaking our truths. I have never regretted my decision to tell, and it has resulted in only positive experiences for me.
Finally, it is truly disturbing that Ms. Shalit sees the telling of rape stories as somehow titillating ("sex sells," she says, although Take Back the Night marches are not "selling" anything). Rape is an act of violence and power. Healthy adults hearing a story of sexual abuse are not "voyeurs" and do not experience sexual arousal. This dangerous view that any discussion of sexuality is taboo has damaged and silenced victims for far too long.
Los Angeles, CA
Ms. Shalit replies: Gloria Allred's stirring defense of "telling" does not address the premise of my article: that Take Back the Night, a forum intended to give rape survivors that opportunity, has been colonized by overzealous, partisan activists. My argument is not with survivors of rape who speak out but with protesters who, under the guise of advocacy, pressure these women to become oratorical showcases for campus radicalism—"lenses of oppression," to use their breathless phrase. I did not demean rape victims but criticized those activists who would increase the psychic burden of the already difficult task of speaking out publicly about rape.
While silencing survivors is precisely the opposite of what I intended to accomplish, I will admit to a certain ambivalence about Princeton's Take Back the Night march and other ceremonies of public "telling." In my article, I suggested that the hypnotic performance-art dynamic that makes Take Back the Night so compelling also makes it uncomfortably fetishistic, that the revolutionary enthusiasm which gives it political efficacy may also produce the occasional noble lie. I believe it is possible to embrace the spirit and meaning of Take Back the Night without abandoning one's capacity for critical thought about these issues.
Rather than arguing with Ms. Allred over the fine points of erotic psychology, I propose that the real issue is not voyeurism but the exploitation of voyeurism for smug doctrinal ends, a cynical use of victimization that holds up survivors as artifacts of America's "rape culture," declares rape the "crudest and most direct form of racism," and, without missing a beat, proclaims the need for campus speech codes.
Rape victims' advocates do their cause no good by treating the veracity of an accusation as an inconsequential side issue. "Perhaps her story was true. Perhaps not," Ms. Allred muses. I doubt the young male student who was accused and subsequently exonerated of accosting a classmate, dragging her to his room, raping her, beating her, and dumping her unconscious body in a stairwell would comprehend or appreciate Ms. Allred's polite suspension of judgment.
Dirk Roggeveen's support for a second prosecution of the four Los Angeles police officers under federal statute ("Better Fed than Dead," Aug./Sept.) illustrates the politicization of the Rodney King case. The Supreme Court in the 1920s ruled that separate prosecutions by state and federal authorities under certain circumstances do not violate double-jeopardy prohibitions. Civil-liberties groups such as the ACLU have historically opposed this decision, until the King case.
If violations of state and federal statute occur simultaneously, the two cases should be filed in parallel. Charges should not be filed after an unsatisfactory outcome. This is sour-grapes justice, a double dip into the judicial system in an attempt to reach a predetermined result. It is also a racial prosecution, since these officers would not be retried on criminal charges if their victim had been white.
While I can appreciate and even agree with Dirk Roggeveen's view that federal prosecution of civil-rights violations by state agents is a necessary check on corrupt or reluctant local governments and juries, I am disturbed that he downplays the aspect of double jeopardy. The Fifth Amendment reads, in part, "nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…." It does not continue "…except in the case of civil-rights violations."
The rights of all persons in our country would be better served if the federal courts tried all such cases, bypassing the local courts. This would avoid the double-jeopardy problem.
The proscription of double jeopardy is a basic protection for individuals against the state. Although the federal government may reprosecute these cases with good motives, it is the nature of government to oppress, and eventually such seemingly justified circumvention of constitutional protection will be abused.
Mr. Roggeveen replies: My article on federal prosecution of police brutality neither supported nor opposed such prosecution of the four LAPD officers. Since I have had no part in the federal investigation, I am not aware of the facts considered in the dual-prosecution decision in the Los Angeles case. The article only explained why such prosecutions generally are important to securing the rights of the citizenry against abuses of police power.
I am well aware of the liberty and justice interests that give rise to the concerns with dual prosecution of federal rights violations. I expect the Founders did not anticipate a large and far-reaching federal prosecutorial apparatus when they drafted the Fifth Amendment. Double jeopardy is a philosophical and legal issue that should continue to be debated despite the current status of the law. We must not ignore other liberty interests when considering the subject of double jeopardy in federal prosecution of civil-rights cases.
In "Read Our Lips" (June), Stephen Moore mentioned that the "underdog" Oklahoma Taxpayers Union "overcame fierce opposition and big dollars" from the state's power brokers, including the media, in its effort to win passage of State Question 640, which requires that all future tax increases receive a "supermajority" in the legislature or be approved by a vote of the people at the next general election.
Moore failed to include two critical points. First, The Daily Oklahoman, the ultra-right-wing newspaper with the largest circulation in the state (over 2 million readers in a state with a population of 3.2 million), was in favor of State Question 640, so much so that it ran frequent editorials urging passage, including one on the front page the day of the election. Although the television stations and the daily papers in Tulsa were opposed to S.Q. 640, Moore's reference to media opposition hardly rings true.
Second, proponents of S.Q. 640, including the Oklahoma Taxpayers Union, actually outspent their opponents, called Progress Oklahoma, by a large amount. Proponents of the measure spent $699,373, while opponents spent $309,000. So Moore's assertion about the opposition's "big bucks" was way off base as well.
Kirk A. Rodden
Professor of Political Science and History
Murray State College
Mr. Moore replies: Kirk A. Rodden is wrong in one of his claims and misleading in the other. First, The Daily Oklahoman was the only major news outlet to support Question 640. In addition to the Tulsa papers, the Oklahoma Press Association opposed the initiative. According to Oklahoma Taxpayers Association President Dan Brown, "75 percent of the media was against Question 640." I would describe this as "fierce opposition."
Rodden claims that the supporters of Question 640 spent $699,373 to win passage. According to the State Ethics Commission, the funding was closer to $300,000. The source of Rodden's error was probably including the approximately $400,000 cost of getting the initiative on the ballot. Nonetheless, I was wrong when I wrote that the taxpayer groups were outspent by the opposition. It turns out that opponents and proponents spent about $300,000 each.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".