Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Memory Lane and Boy Were They Wrong.

I was reading Wendy McElroy's website which mentioned the continuing controversy in Texas over textbooks. She linked to a history of the controversy and I went to take a look. The originators of this whole textbook movement were a couple of far Right fundamentalists by the name of Mel and Norma Gabler, both deceased now.

Now, if we go back further than I care to admit I went to observe a conference of extremely conservative folks—emphasis on the the extreme please. Among the participants were Mel and Norma. One of their allies was the Rev. Ezra Graley, a fundamentalist minister from West Virginia who led the protests about textbooks in Kanawha county. Graley I knew better than the Gablers. All three, I should say, were John Birch Society types, heavily into far Right politics and theories. Where the Gablers merely protested textbooks some of Graley's allies resorted to violence. My conversations with Graley left me with the impression that while he claimed to have no knowledge of who was behind the incidents that he approved of them.

One of Graley's ministerial allies, Rev. Charles Quigley led public prayers asked God to kill board members. Several schools were firebombed. Someone set 15 sticks of dynamite near a gas meter at the board of education offices, which exploded shortly after a board meeting adjourned. A friend of Graley's, another fundamentalist minister, Rev. Marvin Horan was sentenced to three years in prison on charges related to the bombings. All of this was kicked off by Alice Moore, the wife of yet another fundamentalist minister, who used the Gablers as her resource bank for the protests. As you can see it was incestuous and completely riddled with fundamentalists.

During that trip to Salt Lake City it was Graley who decided that a day trip through some of the canyons would be a good idea. There were four us in the car. Graley, myself and Mel and Norma Gabler. I wish I could remember more of the details of the conversations. It was time when they all let their hair down and weren't so guarded in their comments. And what I vaguely remember was discussion that was supportive of violence and tinged with racism. Yet, like so many fundamentalists I've known, they could be sweet a pie if they thought you could be won over. Like many very bitter individuals they had these saccharin voices that they could use to sooth you. But remember saccharin is fake and so was their pleasantness.

Among the material I was reading on the protest movement was an article from the New York Times about the Gablers. The article quotes a fund-raising letter from the Gablers which said: "Until textbooks are changed, there is no possibility that crime, violence, veneral disease and abortion rates will decrease." That was in 1981.

It is now almost 30 years later and the fundamentalists are no happier with the textbooks today than they were back then. All the same "errors" are being taught to the kids. Yet all the trends in these areas are down, something the Gablers said couldn't happen without getting rid of the sinful textbooks.

In 1981, the year this was said, there were 593.47 violent crimes for every 100,000 people. In 2008, the last year I was able to find stats for the number of violent crimes had dropped to 454.6 per 100,000 people. That is pretty significant. For murder the decline was even more dramatic; from 9.9 per 100,000 in 1981 to 5.3 per 100,000 in 2008. And the textbooks are still evil.

I looked at VD rates and found that they were already declining when the Gablers were claiming that couldn't happen. Here is a chart from the CDC showing gonorrhea rates from 1970 to 1993. The rate for that disease had peaked in 1974 and was in a slow decline which escalated not long after the Gablers were claiming that couldn't happen, unless the textbooks were changed. As for syphilis, the height of infections in the US were during the youth of the Gablers, in the 1940s, when rates had reached almost 600,000 cases. By 1981, with a much larger population, the rate was around 100,000 per year. Now if the textbooks in 1941 were acceptable to the Gablers this would indicates that syphilis rates dropped as the textbooks got more ungodly.

Now lets look at abortion rates in the United States. Obviously there was a sharp rise in the number abortions once women were allowed the choice and no longer regulated by the state to prevent it. Once again the Gablers, however, predicted that a decline in rates couldn't take place, even while the decline had already started. If you look at the following chart you will see abortion rates had already begun a slow deline when the Gablers made their statement.

What this reminds me of is the dire doomsday predictions of another hysterical extremists, Paul Ehrlich of "population bomb" fame. Erhlich has a history of making the same sort of dire predictions as the Gablers and being as spectacularly wrong as the Gablers as well. I remember reading a follow-up book he wrote where he damned Vietnam to famine just at the time that food production was rapidly expanding and Vietnam became a food exporter. Unlike the Gablers, who tended to make the same false claims over and over, Erhlich had a tendency to remove the statement from later books and simply make similarly wrong claims about new areas instead.

Here is the reality. There are scary things in the world and always have been. But, for the most part, things have gotten better not worse. Crime rates are down, not up. The amount of food per person in the world has expanded, not declined. Most trends are positive.

Political types, like the Gablers and Ehrlich, use fear to manipulate the public. Any campaign that relies on dire consequences is most likely exaggerated or entirely false.

The other day I was walking through the parking lot to a local store when I heard a hysterical mother screaming at a child who had gotten out of the car that was parked, before the mother had gotten out. She was shreiking that the child must never leave the car first and "wander" around as bad things could happen to the child. The entire tirade was clearly premised on the "stranger danger" scenario that has fueled parental hysteria for some time now.

At an airport, not that long ago, a mother was standing in the waiting area with a small girl. The girl walked a few feet to look out a window. The mother lost eye contact momentarily and then panicked screaming out the child's name. The girl was grabbed by the arm and yelled out loudly and hysterically that bad people could grab her and that she must never walk a few feet away from her mother.

But, once again, these numbers have been steadily improving—and they were NEVER that high to begin with. When I was a kid we wandered all around the neighborhood without any parental monitoring. We didn't have cell phones that parents could call to "check up" on us. Now parents panic if the kids play in the front yard. We hiked through the fields and woods surrounding the town, and this was a suburb of a major city. Kidnappings and abductions today are at the same levels they were when I was a kid, but the parental hysteria level is higher.

I don't want to say that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That is quite true. What we have to fear is the solutions politicians propose to solve our imaginary fears. Those really scare me because they almost always mean a loss of freedom, greater taxation, and unintended consequences that are more negative than the "problems" they are meant to solve.

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