Down, Down We Go
By Anne Hendershott
Publisher: Encounter Books
Review Author: Patrick Rooney
Anne Hendershott has a problem — she’s an academic with common sense, which places her at odds with her brethren and with the cultural elite generally. Her latest book, The Politics of Deviance, aims to illuminate the dangerous turn taken by our culture since we have begun, in the words of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “defining deviancy down.”
“Defining deviancy down” simply means that what was once considered deviant behavior is no longer considered deviant. Hendershott shows throughout her book that this re-defining of deviancy has largely come from “experts” — be they academics, healthcare professionals, the media, or advocacy groups.
Senator Moynihan’s now-classic 1992 speech signaled a crisis point that had been reached in society’s “nonjudgmental” attitudes. We had become a society that took the “live and let live” philosophy to ridiculous extremes.
Hendershott’s opening point is a big one: that we have replaced the notion of evil with “sickness.” We’ve medicalized almost every social problem imaginable, thereby providing a ready excuse for the wrongdoer. Alcoholics and drug addicts do not have character flaws, they have a disease. Likewise, more serious offenders, even murderers, are “criminally insane.” This “disease” model has permeated our society.
To tell someone guilty of a moral flaw or crime that he has a disease sounds so compassionate, doesn’t it? But Hendershott rips the curtain away from the ugly flip side — that labeling something a disease can also imply that there is no cure.
Our society little heeded the words of Senator Moynihan. We continued to define deviancy down, and elected a deviant president in Bill Clinton. His deficiencies were explained away to his abusive upbringing. Clinton’s presence in the White House “defined the presidency down.”
Hendershott ties many of today’s problems into her model, and they all fit. She writes of “road rage” and even “surf rage,” an affliction of surfers who must jockey for wave availability! Hendershott correctly points out how experts refer to these phenomena as outside conditions which essentially force “victims” to respond negatively. This again is a seductive argument that removes personal responsibility and, in the end, says we are powerless to rise above our circumstances.
When Hendershott exposes American society’s outrageous abuse of Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs, she hits paydirt. Ninety percent of the world’s supply of Ritalin is used on American children! This is a national embarrassment and it needs to stop. According to Hendershott, children as young as three are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and many are already being medicated for it.
Eric Harris, one of the Columbine High School shooters, had a history of psychotropic medication use, as did many others who have perpetrated school shootings. This fact has yet to be fully confronted by the American public, but it is confronted here by Hendershott. Is there a direct relationship between the use of these drugs and violent actions? This has yet to be confirmed, but we do know that these drugs are too often introduced as a physical answer to emotional and spiritual problems.
Cultural elitists like to equate madness with genius. Hendershott points out that this sentiment is given credibility in movies such as A Beautiful Mind, and has been perpetuated by the troubles of creative types from Poe and van Gogh. The elitists say that much creative work is done in a “manic” state. This may be true, but what kind of message emanates from this “creative” state?
It is noteworthy that the greatest creative mind of all time, God, created the heavens and earth out of stillness. But this “manic” state of which the elitists are so fond is the opposite of such stillness. No wonder these elitists are so enamored of this state. Too often these are the same people who hate common sense and even the God who bestows it. Hendershott has thus zeroed in on the problem — elitists and their shell game, which is used to perpetuate the further defining down of deviancy.
The great irony in the game of defining deviancy down is that, in the end, no one is deviant save the people with common sense who blow the whistle on deviancy. These people are accused of being, for example, “homophobes” and, in general, of being “judgmental.” The only evil person is he who points out evil!
With regard to homosexuality, the author exposes the elitists’ game of labeling AIDS carriers as “victims,” thus gaining public sympathy. Socrates and other greats are trotted out as supposed homosexuals to further gain sympathy. Hendershott comments that a growing number of homosexual men are knowingly infecting others with AIDS. When this was first reported, writers and pundits were subject to spine-chilling threats and intimidation from these so-called victims.
Hendershott almost outdoes herself with “Celebrating the Sexually Adventurous Adolescent.” She notes the PBS special about an STD outbreak in a rural area due to rampant group sex among young teens. The soul-destroying effects of this activity were captured in comments such as: “The first time you have sex, you think it means something. But then you realize it doesn’t. You just don’t really care anymore.” Perhaps more heartbreaking were the attitudes of the young people’s parents. They were described as “easy,” as trying to be “friends” with their sons and daughters. Not surprisingly, they were also described as often communicating little with their kids and having little contact with them.
There’s also a great chapter on schizophrenic colleges that on the one hand promote sexual activity among their students and on the other hand create draconian means to punish that activity. Unsuspecting young males are often caught up in kangaroo courts at these institutions, charged with “date rape,” and expelled without gaining access to attorneys or witnesses.
The chapter on assisted suicide is another gem. After reporting on the pitfalls of Oregon’s assisted suicide program, Hendershott examines the Netherlands. Doctors there are killing patients without their consent, and without the families’ knowledge! Ironically, the “right to die” is becoming the “duty to die.”
The Politics of Deviance is a welcome addition to our national conversation, and an effective weapon in the battle that must be fought and won if we are to preserve order — the foundation of society.
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