Civil Liberties



Vouchers for Childcare

Many effusive thanks for the thrilling article by Cathy Young ("The Mommy Wars," July). On this vital issue, Young skewered both left-wing feminism and right-wing patriarchy most brilliantly.

I only wish that Young's own approach had been a little less narrowly ideological. As a libertarian, she'd like to leave childcare solutions not only to individual initiative but also to each family's bankbook–a free-market reflex that hobbles parents and kids on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

A more democratic, common-ground solution would be to voucher childcare. Doing so would affirm that all of society has some stake in the socialization of every child, while placing control of that process in the hands of individual parents, where it belongs.

Vouchering childcare would help stay-at-home, work-at-home, and work-away parents equally. The state could bestow bonuses on care-takers–relatives, parents, professional providers–who were certifiably informed about how to keep kids safe, sated, stimulated, and sane. "Experts" could thus influence the quality of care, but individuals would still rule their own roosts.

Unlike education vouchers, childcare vouchers would not destroy a public institution; they would upgrade a private one. Young has made the real needs of parents and kids top priority when analyzing policy. Why not push their interests to the fore when designing it?

Lynn Phillips

Mad About Szasz

Jacob Sullum's interview with Thomas Szasz ("Curing the Therapeutic State," July) impressed me above and beyond the typically sterling editorial quality of REASON to which I've grown accustomed. A free market in drugs and a coercion-free system of treating (or not treating) people with real or perceived mental hang-ups. What a concept! I found myself frantically underlining passages in the interview, something I never do.

I've always puzzled over why ideas such as Szasz's are so unthinkable to the majority of otherwise freedom-loving Americans. The only possible explanation is fear. Whenever the idea of legalizing drugs surfaces in public discourse, it seems the rebuttal is always something on the order of, "We'll become a nation of zombies!" No evidence is ever offered to support this claim, however.

In my view, a person's decision to use drugs or to abstain seldom, if ever, hinges on legal status. I know my own decision not to do drugs has had virtually nothing to do with their prohibition. People who are ambitious tend to avoid behaviors–drunkenness, drug abuse, sloth, frivolity –that they believe will interfere with the achievement of their goals. Whether or not such behaviors are illegal simply doesn't enter into the decision (though it may make them more clandestine in their use of drugs).

Sean Smith
Rosebug, OR

I suppose even REASON must publish some measure of nonsense, but it is regrettable that some such nonsense–namely, Jacob Sullum's interview with Thomas Szasz–may do considerable harm.

For readers who may have taken Szasz's wacky denial of mental illness seriously, and who may have relatives and friends in need of medical intervention, I would recommend Charles B. Nemeroff's "The Neurobiology of Depression," Scientific American (June 1998), which makes the scientific research on the biochemistry of mental illness accessible to an intelligent lay reader. Nemeroff also quotes from William Styron's memoir of mental illness, Darkness Visible (1990), which is the best account in English of the agonizing illness of depression.

Reasonable people can believe Nemeroff and Styron, where science and poetry converge. I urge Jacob Sullum to read them both and report his discoveries to the readers of REASON. It might even save lives and help restore some people to health.

Professor Larry L. Wade
Department of Political Science
University of California, Davis

Jacob Sullum replies: Dr. Szasz has always conceded that physical diseases can affect people's thinking and behavior. In the interview, he granted the possibility that some people who are diagnosed as, say, "schizophrenic" may be suffering from an underlying brain defect. He believes psychiatrists have not demonstrated such a defect and do not have a reliable diagnostic test for it.

Whether or not he's right about that, his critique of "mental illness" does not hinge on this issue. If schizophrenia and depression are in fact "brain diseases," then they are not "mental illnesses."

Reinforcing the Foundation

Absolutely brilliant review by Mark Goldblatt of Stanley Fish's The Trouble With Principle ("Shaking the Anti-Foundation," June). I have been making many of the same points in reaction to multiculturalism, affirmative action, social construction, etc., in my courses for some time now (ergo, my reaction is not disinterested). This review will definitely be among the required readings.

I do, however, have a few observations. While both divine and volcanic eruptions may be said to be based on the "law of causality," it seems to me that there is a vast epistemological chasm between the two. The former is based on faith and the latter on the scientific method. As Alan Sokal and others have made abundantly clear, the critique of the scientific method as socially constructed simply does not hold. In short, there are certain methods (principles) that are demonstrably more valid than others. The fact that social constructivists can object to "rationality" while using the Internet and flitting to conferences hither and yon boggles the mind.

As well, "impartiality" and "tolerance" are obviously not disinterested. They work and are preferable to other "competing faiths" precisely because the "interest" here extends to everyone.

Certainly, these observations are implicit in Goldblatt's review. However, given the absolute dominance of antifoundationalism and social constructivism in most departments of humanities and social sciences, I think they need to be reiterated as forcefully and as often as possible.

Ben Lawton
West Lafayette, IN