Jewish World Review August 19, 2002 / 11 Elul 5762

Thomas Sowell

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Slaves to words

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the old-time comic strip "Li'l Abner," one of the characters revealed that a new stranger in town had spent many years in reform school. Another character replied, "Well, he must be reformed by now."

Unfortunately, the same gullibility about words occurs far too often in the real world.

The proliferation of "ethics" courses in our educational institutions over the past few decades might similarly lead some to think that people must be more ethical by now. Yet the various corporate scandals of our times suggest that the ethics courses in business schools have failed completely. The unprecedented levels of cheating in our schools and colleges likewise suggest that ethics courses don't do much for ethics there either.

The big problem with accepting words is that it can keep us from examining realities. The reality is that ethics courses have not failed. They have succeeded in doing something wholly different from what the public was led to believe they were doing.

In their various guises, courses on ethics at all educational levels have tended to promote moral relativism, undermining the very concept of right and wrong. In other words, many ethics courses are themselves frauds.

Right and wrong are not rocket science. So why a need for so many such courses, except as exercises in sophistry or propaganda for politically correct notions about issues ranging from environmentalism to the new trinity of "race, class and gender"?

We have become such slaves to words that many people really believe that rent control controls rent and gun control controls guns. Yet a study at the Cato Institute found that cities with rent control laws usually have higher rents than cities without them.

There are economic reasons why this is so but the key point is that few people bothered to find out the facts, much less try to analyze the reasons, because they just assumed that rent control actually controls rents.

Does gun control actually control guns? Statistics from a number of countries suggest that tightening up restrictions on owning guns does not reduce violence. On the contrary, violent crimes have increased in various countries that have tightened up gun control in the wake of widely publicized shootings, while those American communities that passed laws allowing any responsible and law-abiding citizen to carry a handgun have seen rates of violent crime decline.

Does AIDS education actually educate people about AIDS -- or is it instead a way to propagandize in favor of accepting homosexuality and adopting the gay political agenda? If you said the latter, you are likely to be right more often than if you said the former.

Since homosexuality considerably increases the risk of getting AIDS, these programs are counterproductive for their ostensible purpose, however effective they may be for promoting the gay agenda.

Centuries ago, Hobbes said that words are wise men's counters, but they are the money of fools. Often that money is counterfeit. But you don't discover that in time if you don't bother to look at the reality behind the words.

Alarm bells ought to go off when people start calling themselves "public interest" law firms or "public interest" research groups. Who are they to define what the public interest is, while pursuing their own political or ideological agendas? There would not be any issues if other people did not see the public interest differently.

Why is there a halo around organizations that are called "non-profit"? People who head up such organizations are not volunteers donating their time. Often they are paid far more than owners of restaurants, hardware stores or gas stations can expect to make as profit. Why is money that is called one thing better than money that is called something else?

Since non-profit organizations usually have to get their money from donations, many of them are fountainheads of hysterical propaganda. Some of the biggest and phoniest scares of our time have come from non-profit organizations, crying wolf in order to raise money -- the money of fools.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.

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