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Political Correctness (PC) or Postmodernism: call it what you will, define it as you like, but by now we're all familiar with the basic thrust of the Left critique of Western Civilization : it is, essentially, that all of the truths and understandings of the world around us and of our purpose in it--that we inherited from Judeo-Christian moral tradition, liberal democratic political tradition, and capitalist economic tradition--are fundamentally wrong.  In fact, these systems and their teachings were merely artificial constructs designed to serve the few--straight, white, males--and subjugate the many--women, people of color, the sexually other.  PC/Postmodernism seeks to remedy this situation by utterly rejecting the fruits of Western Civilization--religion, morality, reason, scientific method, etc.--and replacing them with pretty nearly any quack theory that one of the oppressed can dream up and by seeking to punish anyone who speaks favorably about the obviously outmoded traditional way of thinking about things, or who, Gaia forbid, actually tries to apply any of the old theories to human affairs.

It's easy enough to see the appeal of PC/Postmodernism to those who have historically fared poorly in our society.  First of all, it is important to note, as far too few conservatives are willing to, that a large part of its underlying premise is absolutely correct : Western Civilization is for the most part, at least up until the last half century or so, a creation of males of European descent.   Furthermore, these men were not always as enlightened in their relations with people who were different-than-they as we might have wished them to be.  Lastly, it is true that these men still predominate in Western society, though their (our) grip would certainly appear to be slipping.  Most people look at that set of facts and, though they may judge our ancestors harshly, are nevertheless able to appreciate what they achieved.  They can separate out the ideals that Western Civilization enunciated from its failure to always live up to them in practice, and can embrace the ideals.  Most of the great strides in civil rights have grown out of this embrace, for instance when women and blacks decided to throw democratic rhetoric back at their oppressors, and make them live up to their own ideals.  Women's suffrage and black voting rights and desegregation were won precisely by referring to Western values and demanding that they be realized.

Unfortunately though, these groups have not always recognized the worth of Western Civilization.  First, because they had so little role in its creation, they are not emotionally and spiritually invested in it.  Second, because they may still trail white men in some areas of social progress, they find it easier to condemn the system, rather than to try and catch up.  Thus, they cultivate a culture of victimhood, a process which the feminist author Tammy Bruce has nicely captured in her own book, The New Thought Police, a leftist critique of political correctness :

    The sense of perpetual victimhood precludes even the concept that the members of a victimized minority could actually rise above
    their assigned position in society and meet that society on their own terms.  To do that would mean taking personal responsibility
    for the condition of their own lives, instead today's 'progressives' have designed an argument that leads not to the encouragement
    of personal change and growth but to entitlement, group rights, and the eradication of the individual, all in the name of progress.

Why bother even trying to compete in modern society, if you can, instead, simply portray yourself as a victim of that society, entitled therefore to special treatment and remedial largesse from your fellow citizens.  So we arrive at a political climate where personal responsibility, self-reliance, moral behavior, and even rationality come to be seen not as the tools through which we can all achieve a better human society, but as treacherous remnants of the old system of oppression, to be rejected and discarded, post haste.

Sally Satel's book is a disturbing look at how this kind of PC/Postmodernism is infecting medicine and having a deleterious effect on the very "victims"  it is supposed to be helping.  We've had plenty of warnings, mostly ignored, about the damage being done to our classrooms and culture by PC/Postmodernism, but as Dr. Satel notes :

    Postmodernism may be a harmless approach to literary criticism, but in medicine the stakes are much higher.

After all, a college professor who teaches his classes that the Egyptians were black and could fly is merely an idiot.  But a doctor or nurse who tries treating your illness with an ancient Egyptian technique is quite possibly a threat to your life.

Addressing herself to a relatively limited range of topics, mostly ones with which she has personal experience, Dr. Satel amply demonstrates that these kinds of threats to public health are quite real.  Among the topics she covers are : the efforts to treat racism as a cause of sickness; the movement by psychiatric patients to deny the very existence of mental illness; the use of "alternative medicine" techniques by nurses; the portrayal of women and minorities as somehow underserved or underrepresented within the health sector; the treatment of addictions as diseases, rather than as functions of personal choice; and the growth of what are basically political therapies, such as recovered memory and the like.  She offers numerous, well-documented, and quite frightening examples of all of these pernicious trends in action.

Though at first blush this may seem a random grab bag of problems, they are in fact united by a few simple themes, each of dubious merit.  For the most part, each requires us to ignore scientific evidence and instead to accept politically popular explanations for the "causes" of disease.  But just because New Age practices like fondling crystals are in style does not mean they have any real worth in the health care setting.  Treating them as if they do is downright dangerous.  Similarly, we can all celebrate the rising power of women in our society without creating a whole range of incredibly sketchy new "skills" for them to utilize, like recovering memories and using alternative therapies.  At current rates of medical school admission and graduation, women doctors will soon achieve parity with their male counterparts if not outnumber them.  Women are being empowered within the traditional system; we've no need to turn the system into a dangerous joke just to give them a sense of power that is ultimately based on falsehood and fraud.

Finally, the most basic similarity among the various topics Dr. Satel covers is the way in which they deny personal responsibility and shift blame for a variety of preventable or treatable medical conditions to forces beyond the patients' control.  Why lose weight to control my hypertension if I can just blame race?  Why take my medications if I can claim schizophrenia is normal?  Why try to control my own drinking or drug-use if I can pretend they aren't my fault?  And so on.  PC/Postmodernism excuses us of all of our sins and pins them on someone or something else.  Hell, no wonder it's so popular among people with problems.

Meanwhile, if this were all simply a matter of whom to blame, it might not be a big deal, but consider the implications of this victimology.  For one thing, it has to stifle the motivation of people to help themselves, which must thereby prevent them from improving their health.  It would be fine for folks to say : I'm a drunk because of the historic crimes of white men, but now I'm taking control of my own life and I'm going to quit drinking.  At least they'll get better.  But if they sit around saying : It's not my fault, so I don't need to change, then they are going to remain sick.  Beyond that though, such victimology, by depriving them of a work ethic and of any sense of personal responsibility, also serves to keep minorities in the lower socio-economic status that PC/Postmodernism has correctly identified as contributing (at least somewhat) to their poor health.  The very pathologies that contribute to poverty--ignorance, indolence, immorality, atomization of the once nuclear family, and addiction--also contribute to ill health, yet in excusing these behaviors to suit their political purposes the practitioners of PC/Postmodernism have sacrificed the surest cure for what ails the poor : self-help.  And because the doctrine of PC/Postmodernism requires the rejection of modern society and Western values, it leaves those who buy into it ill-equipped to succeed in the very society in which they live, creating a vicious cycle of failure, righteous helplessness and more failure.

Over the course of this fine book, Dr. Satel shows not just that the health care system is being steadily degraded by people whose primary concerns are political and not medicinal but that even these political motives are counterproductive.   She makes a convincing case that PC medicine is part and parcel of the Left's broader attempt to demoralize the culture and to subvert the social order, and that this is being done without due regard for its actual effects on the ill.  Most of the negative comments I could find, come from folks who think that Dr. Satel overstates her case or is merely grinding a conservative axe.  On the contrary, she seems, if anything, to be a tad too cautious in her argument, sticking so closely to personal knowledge that she misses some big targets.  The book makes little or no mention of such blatantly anti-scientific, though politically correct, causes as Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, the silicon breast-implant hysteria, or the myth of heterosexual AIDs and the murderously foolish notion that you can practice "safe sex".   And anyone who has had a baby in recent years can tell you a half dozen or more areas of that seemingly straightforward branch of medicine that have been thoroughly corrupted by political theory, from the cult-like insistence on "natural" child birth and breast feeding to the vehement opposition to circumcision.  Hopefully Dr. Satel will be returning in the future to address an even wider range of such topics.  As is, PC, M.D. will frighten anyone who cares about the quality and the future of medicine in America; which should be everyone.


Grade: (A-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Sally Satel, MD WH Brady, Jr., Fellow (American Enterprise Institute)
    -AUTHOR SITE : Sally Satel MD
    -Sally Satel (Ethics and Public Policy Center )
    -BOOKNOTES : PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine (July 2001, C-SPAN)
    -ARCHIVES : of articles by Sally Satel (
    -ESSAY : The Indoctrinologists are Coming : Does either color or sex determine the level and frequency of medical care that individual patients receive? A careful look at available data, the author argues, suggests that the answer is no (Sally Satel, January 2001, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Multicultural Mental Health: Does Your Skin Color Matter More Than Your Mind? (Sally Satel, M.D., and Greg Forster, Center for Equal Opportunity)
    -ESSAY : Feminism Is Bad For Women's Health Care (Sally Satel, March 8, 2001, Wall Street Journal )
    -ESSAY : Sick Sisters : How feminist politics is warping medicine (Sally Satel, April 2001, The American Enterprise)
    -ESSAY : Who Needs Medical Ethics? (Sally Satel, Feb 2001, Commentary)
    -ESSAY : How Racial Preferences Refuse to Die (Sally Satel, January 31 , 2001 , NY Post)
    -LECTURE : Postmodern Medicine (Sally Satel, Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, January 8, 2001)
    -ESSAY: Race belongs in the stem cell debate (Jon Entine & Sally Satel, December 2001)
    -ESSAY : medicineís race problem : Sometimes racial information can help in treatment (Sally Satel, December 2001, Policy Review)
    -ESSAY : New Age Nurses (Sally Satel and Donal P. O'Mathuna, Winter 2000, The Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY : THE MYTH OF GENDER BIAS IN MEDICINE (Cathy Young, Womens Freedom Network  with Sally Satel ©, Yale Medical School)
    -ESSAY : Good Grief: Don't Get Taken by the Trauma Industry (Sally Satel and Christina Hoff Sommers, 10/15/01, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Drugs: A Decision, Not a Disease (Sally Satel, 4/27/01, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : The Truth About Anti-Depressants Will Cheer You Up (Sally L. Satel , October 2000, The Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY : Badness or Madness? (Sally Satel, The Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Parity Isn't Charity (Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 1999)
    -ESSAY : An Overabundance of Counseling? (Sally Satel, The New York Times, April 23, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Real Help for the Mentally Ill (Sally Satel, The New York Times, January 7, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Methadone Patients Should Not Be Allowed to Persist in Cocaine Use (Jonathan Caulkins and Sally L. Satel, January 1999 , FAS Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin)
    -ESSAY : The Abuse Excuse (Sally Satel, Winter 1998, The Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY : Do Drug Courts Really Work? (Sally Satel, Summer 1998, City Journal)
    -ESSAY : Violent Fantasies (Sally Satel; D J Jaffe, July 1998, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Opiates For the Masses (Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 1998)
    -ESSAY : The Patriarchy Made Me Do It (Sally Satel, May 1998, Psychiatric Times)
    -ESSAY : Don't Forget the Addict's Role in Addiction (Sally Satel, The New York Times, April 4, 1998)
    -ESSAY : For Addicts, Force is the Best Medicine (Sally Satel, The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1998)
    -ESSAY : Drug Addicts and Disability Payments (Sally Satel, September 1997, FAS Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin)
    -ESSAY : It's Always His Fault : Femininist Ideology Dominates Perpetrator Programs (Sally L. Satel,M.D., Summer 1997, The Women's Quarterly)
    -ESSAY : Rebalancing the Drug Control Budget: A Shadow Play (Mark Kleiman & Sally Satel, January 1997, FAS Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin)
    -ESSAY : Yes, Drug Treatment Can Work (Sally Satel, Summer 1995, City Journal)
    -ESSAY : Treating Insanity Reasonably (Sally Satel, Winter 1995, City Journal)
    -INTERVIEW : Deadly PC : Playing politics with medicine. An interview with author Sally Satel (Kathryn Jean Lopez, January 13, 2001, National Review)
    -INTERVIEW : with Sally Satel (Docrates)
    -INTERVIEW : with Sally Satel (National Association of Scholars)
    -DISCUSSION : Has Medicine Gone PC?  with Sally Satel and H. Jack Geiger. (Ben Wattenburg, March 29, 2001, Think Tank on PBS)
    -AUDIO DISCUSSION : Prozac (Diane Rhem Show, August 15, 2001)
    -PROFILE : A Critic Takes On Psychiatric Dogma, Loudly (Erica Goode, March 6, 2001, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Sally Satel (Media Transparency)
    -ESSAY : Smearing Sally Satel : NEJMís disingenuous swipe. (NRO Staff, February 15, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Smearing Sally Satel, Part 2 : NEJM admits mistake (NRO Staff, February 16, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : THE PSYCHIATRIC COLLABORATOR AS "CRITIC"  (Thomas S. Szasz, M.D., Ideas on Liberty)
    -ESSAY : Group therapy: New book ponders the damage political correctness can do to medicine (Bonnie Booth, AMNews staff. Feb. 19, 2001)
    -LINKS : PC, MD in the Popular Press (Activism and Medicine)
    -ARCHIVES : "sally satel" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "sally satel" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine, by Sally Satel, M.D. (Christine Kenneally, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine, by Sally Satel, M.D. (Sherwin Nuland, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Suzanne Gordon, The American Prospect)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Jacob Sullum, Reason)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Judith L. Rapoport, MD, JAMA)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Damon Tweedy, Medical Student JAMA)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (David Seidenwurm, National Review)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Paul R. Gross, Commentary)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Joseph Shattan , American Spectator)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Ivan Oransky, Salon)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Barry MacDonald, St. Croix Review)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Scott Gottlieb, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Anthony Daniels, New Criterion)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Jeff Stryker, California Healthline)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (James Lee Brooks, Navigator)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Betsy Hart, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Amity Shlaes, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Mark Webster, Jefferson Review)
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (David Orland,
    -REVIEW :of  P. C., M. D. by Sally Satel  (Roger Clegg, Texas Education Review)

    -ESSAY : The Sex-Bias Myth in Medicine (Andrew G. Kadar, M.D., August 1994, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : False Diagnosis : When it comes to gender, doctors don't play favorites. (Cathy Young, May 2001, Reason)
    -ESSAY : Science, Faith, and Alternative Medicine (Ronald W. Dworkin, August 2001, Policy Review)
    -ESSAY : Shock and Disbelief : Electroconvulsive therapy was once psychiatry's most terrifying toolóblunt, painful, and widely abused. It is a now a safe and effective treatment for a wide range of mental illnesses. But an unlikely trio of activist groups stands against it. (Daniel Smith, February 2001, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ARTICLE : Seeing Drugs as a Choice or as a Brain Anomaly (MICHAEL MASSING, June 24, 2000, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : The AIDS Exception: Privacy vs. Public Health : It's time to stop granting "civil rights" to HIVóand to confront AIDS with more of the traditional tools of public health. (Chandler Burr, June 1997, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Killing Them Softly : The Clinton administration says giving clean needles to drug users will slow the spread of AIDS and save lives.  But former addictsóand the specialists who treat themósay their greatest threats come from the soul-destroying culture of addiction (Joe Loconte, July 1998, Heritage Foundation)
    -LINKS : Recovered Memory (Deborah David)
    -ARTICLE : Women's Forum Challenges Feminists, Gains Influence (Richard Morin and Claudia Deane, May 1, 2001, Washington Post)