Monday, June 5, 2023

Good intentions

In "They Meant Well, Mostly" Kevin Williamson on really destructive, influential, books and beliefs:
...The Population Bomb
[was a] “controversial, hastily written, sloppy, error-filled, ridiculous, racist, eugenicist, and forthrightly authoritarian 1968 polemic” that remains a powerful force on the thinking of political movements ranging from abortion rights to anti-war activism.... The Population Bomb was an exercise in vulgar Malthusian economics, rooted in the erroneous assumption that how we produce a given product or commodity today is how we will always do it, ignoring the ways in which scarcity encourages innovation and investment. Paul Ehrlich, the book’s author, predicted with unassailable confidence and utter contempt for disagreement that the United Kingdom would see widespread famine by the end of the 20th century, and that “in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

Asked why he got it so wrong, Ehrlich—who remains invincibly unembarrassed by his risible prophesying—said that nobody could have predicted the increase in food production worldwide....

The Population Bomb was a very bad book—somewhere between incompetently written and wicked—but it had, and continues to have, enormous influence on certain quarters of intellectual life. It is not the only book of its kind.

Millions of people around the world believe that there exists a thing called “multiple-personality disorder,” which doesn’t actually exist, at least in the version stuck in the popular imagination. The idea much of the world has about “multiple-personality disorder” is largely based on a very famous 50-year-old book, Sybil. The book’s influence was amplified by the 1976 made-for-TV movie based on it and starring Sally Field. Sybil fell somewhere between very bad journalism and outright hoax—a wildly profitable hoax, with the first run of the book numbering 400,000 copies. The problems with its claims have been known and understood for many years. But that hasn’t done very much, if anything, to reduce the power of the Sybil-style “multiple-personality disorder” myth. ....

The environmental movement had its Silent Spring, which, like Sybil, was somewhere between incompetent and fraudulent. The indigenous-peoples’ movement had I, Rigoberta Menchu, a work of fiction masquerading as memoir. A generation of Middle Eastern scholars and activists was deeply moved by Edward Said’s account of his hardscrabble Palestinian childhood, which he invented. Every story you’ve ever heard based on the recovery of repressed memories is a lie. ....

.... People went to prison as a result of some of these inventions. And there are millions of people who died of malaria who didn’t have to, thanks, at least in part, to Silent Spring. We have made energy policy, environmental policy, population-control policy, medical policy, economic policy, criminal-justice policy—based on lies. We have done so for decades and will do so for decades more.

Remind me: Which road is it that is paved with good intentions? .... (more)
Kevin Williamson, "They Meant Well, Mostly," The Dispatch, June 5, 2023.

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